ORLAND, Calif. (CBS/AP) — It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.
Those dreams shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway collision that left 10 dead — students, chaperones and both drivers — and dozens hospitalized.
Desperate families awaited word about loved ones Friday, while investigators tried to figure out why a southbound FedEx big rig swerved across the grassy divide of California’s key artery before sideswiping a car and slamming into the tour bus, which burst into a furious blaze.
The Serrato family, whose identical twin 17-year-old daughters set off on the adventure on separate buses Thursday, had a panicked, sleepless night. Marisol made it to their destination, Humboldt State University, but the family had no word on Marisa, who had been aboard the now-gutted bus, for nearly 24 hours.
They received the official word Friday evening when dental records confirmed Marisa was among the dead.
The collision also claimed the life of Michael Myvett, who worked as a therapist for autistic children in Torrance. He and his fiancée, 25-year-old Mattison Haywood, were HSU alums and acting as chaperones for students on the trip. Haywood’s family Friday night confirmed to CBS2/KCAL9 that she also died in the crash.
Rancho Cucamonga resident Arthur Arzola, a HSU admissions counselor, was the first victim to be officially identified as deceased. The 26-year-old was remembered by his co-workers for his “passionate commitment to helping low-income and first-generation students get into college. The campus community extends its deepest condolences to Arthur’s family and friends. Words cannot express our sadness, and we are here to support them in any way possible,” according to the HSU website.
The two drivers in the crash are presumed dead but have yet to be identified.
There are four students who are still missing but authorities have yet to confirm their deaths by dental records. Families of two of those students have confirmed to CBS2/KCAL9 that Ismael Jimenez and Denise Gomez, of Amino Inglewood Charter High School, have died. Adrian Castro, of El Monte High School, and Jennifer Bonilla of Dorsey High School, remain unaccounted for.
Bonilla’s sister, Nancy, spoke with KCAL9’s Louisa Hodge Friday.
“My sister’s one of the missing students and they don’t know her condition or whereabouts or anything,” Bonilla said, adding, “At this moment, I just need someone to help me find my sister.”
Nine people died at the scene and a tenth succumbed to their injuries in the burn center at UC Davis Medical Center.
The Glen County Coroner’s Office says the deceased have been taken to various mortuaries, but most cannot yet be identified due to the severity of their burns. It is expected to take several days to check dental records.
Ismael Jimenez’s family was at the crash site Saturday, overcome with grief.
“Why? That’s what I ask myself: Why?” a male relative in Jimenez’s family said. “We can’t describe the pain we’re feeling right now. It’s just horrible.”
Authorities say the FedEx truck crossed a median and collided head-on with one of three charter buses headed to Humboldt to tour the campus. A couple whose rental car was clipped by the truck say flames were showing from underneath the FedEx vehicle before it even hit the tour bus.
Following impact, the tour bus became engulfed in flames and students had to kick open the windows to escape the fire.
“When I woke up…I hear the screaming, I’m halfway asleep, I thought I was dreaming,” crash survivor Calvin Aceves said. “I thought I was just dreaming. I wake up and then, like, I react. I reacted more when I turned my head a little and see a ball of fire, flames just going up, and that’s when I started banging on the window.”
Officials will be bringing in an accident reconstruction specialist and utilizing 3D mapping and other equipment to document the scene and reconstruct the crash, according to CHP. However, the investigation is expected to take months.
“Everything completely burned,” one official said. “Fire got here pretty quick, but by the time they got here, it was fully engulfed.”
It was unclear what caused the FedEx driver to lose control of the truck.
CHP officials said Friday morning that 31 victims were transported to seven Northern California hospitals. Their conditions ranged from good to critical.
At least 11 patients were taken to Enloe Medical Center, where two remained in serious condition, three were in fair condition, and six were discharged.
Authorities say 48 of the students were on the trip from the following Southland high schools:
Adolfo Camarillo High
Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Tech
Alliance Media Arts and Entert
Animo Inglewood Charter High
Animo Jackie Robinson Charter
California Academy of Mathematics
Carson Senior High
Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academy
El Monte High
Gompers Preparatory Academy
John C. Fremont Senior High
La Sierra High
Manual Arts Senior High
Middle College High
Norte Vista High
Palm Desert High
Phineas Banning Senior High
Pomona Senior High
Renaissance Arts Academy
School for the Visual Arts and
Susan Miller Dorsey Senior High
Ulysses S. Grant Senior High
West Ranch High
Woodrow Wilson Senior High
The LAUSD said 19 of the 48 students attend schools in the district.
KNX 1070’s Pete Demetriou reports Superintendent John Deasy said the lingering effects will be handled by district professionals with the help of others.
“Only one or two students participated from each school. We will be providing support at these campuses this morning,” said Deasy.
Asst. Superintendent of Human Resources at Oxnard Union High School District Rocky Valles says two of its students suffered minor injuries.
“Our District and community is saddened to hear about the tragic bus accident that occurred in Northern California,” the district said in a statement. “We feel deeply about the students who lost their lives and our hearts are with their families. The Oxnard Union High School District had two students on the bus (one from Oxnard High School and one from Adolfo Camarillo High School). Both students were not injured and are safe. The students were released to their parents after leaving the hospital.
The trip was geared toward disadvantaged teens who would be the first in their family to attend college.
Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted about the crash.
“As we mourn the loss of those who died, we join all Californians in expressing our gratitude for the tireless work of the Red Cross and emergency personnel who responded bravely to this terrible tragedy,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
FedEx also released the following statement:
“All of us at FedEx are deeply saddened by the tragic highway accident in California. Our hearts go out to all of those involved and their families. We are cooperating fully with the officials investigating this accident.”
CSU Chancellor Timothy White said Friday that “the soul of the CSU has been cut deeply by this horrific accident.”
An NTSB team from Washington, D.C., along with leaders from the LAUSD, arrived on scene Friday morning.
A complete report on the cause of the accident is not expected for at least three months.
Humboldt State University police have set up an information line for parents and family at (707) 826-6327. Families can also contact the LAUSD at (213) 241-3841.
The Red Cross has set up a hotline at (800) 540-2000 for families affected by the crash. Callers will be connected to local Red Cross chapters where caseworkers will be available to meet families who may need assistance with travel or transportation expenses, as well as counseling and mental health support.